Before the Book: A Conversation with H. M. Bouwman

First, congratulations on your forthcoming book A Tear in the Ocean.   I love to check in with authors in the busy months leading up to publication. Tell me when it’s scheduled to be published?

January 22, 2019.

Let’s start with the burning question: What’s this new book about? 

In another world, a boy, Putnam, and a girl, Artie, run away from their homes and meet up with each other in a sailboat they both think they own—Putnam because he left some money on the beach when he took it, and Artie because she stole it first. By the time they argue about it, they’re far out at sea and stuck with each other. From there they head to the deep south, discover they’re being followed, have adventures, and realize something is terribly wrong with the world.
Meanwhile—or not meanwhile at all, since it happens a hundred years in the past—a girl named Rayel also runs away from home and heads for the deep south, where she experiences both astounding magic and tremendous loss.
Though they are a hundred years apart, these two stories come together (did I mention there’s magic involved?) and Artie, Putnam, and Rayel must save their world together.

I understand this new book is a companion to A Crack in the Sea.  I’m curious about the distinction for you between a companion and a sequel.  Will readers need to have read A Crack in the Sea to enter this book.  Is there a desired reading order? 

No, you don’t have to read one to read the other! A companion book is simply set in the same world as the first book—in this case, the second world of A Crack in the Sea, with the Islands and Raftworld.
            There isn’t a necessary reading order for the books, either. I want to say that you should read Crack in the Sea first, if possible, and then Tear in the Ocean. But that’s because that’s the order I wrote them. Readers don’t need to follow that order! It seems to me that companion novels simply benefit from rubbing against each other, like flint and steel—the order isn’t that significant. And in fact, reading them in a different order than the author wrote them might be really interesting.
            For those who have read Crack in the Sea, I’ll say this: there are some things you’ll know about Putnam that others will not…so try not to give things away! You’ll see a few characters from Crack in the new novel, too: Putnam, of course; and Jupiter makes a brief appearance. And there’s one other person I won’t name, because I’m wondering how many people will notice. Let me know if you find this last person.

You’ve mentioned that fairy tales influenced the book.  Were you attracted to the content or structure?  Or some other quality of fairy tales?   Were you a reader of fairy tales as a child? 

I love fairy tales, and yes, I read a lot of them as a child. We had a Jaro Hess print on our wall—The Land of Make-Believe (which is also on my website!) and my sisters and I used to trace the road with our index finger and talk about where we’d live in the painting…often after we were supposed to be in bed and asleep. I still have this print on my wall as an adult, and I stare at it often, daydreaming. It’s faded considerably over the years, but it’s still snug in the frame my grandfather made for it when he framed it for my mom and her siblings.
            I loved the content of fairy tales, the stories—the stories in that Hess painting and all the others, too—but as an adult I’ve come to appreciate the structure of fairy tales as well. More to the point, I like the feel of a fairy tale. When I write I’m not trying to replicate the structure in any regimented way; I’m just trying to recapture how fairy tales feel; and how, when we listen to them, we accept the magic as a matter of course and move forward from there.

How did the book evolve for you during the writing and revision process? 

The book started with a question from Crack in the Sea: if the ocean is sweet (as it is and as it has to be in Crack), then how did it get that way? Ultimately I didn’t exactly write that story, but that is where it started, with a question about how the world worked.
            I knew too that I wanted a story about transformation: the transformations caused by trauma as well the transformations that can happen with recovery. I was thinking about transformation in a very literal way, so I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses (…okay, mostly I read Ted Hughes’s gorgeous and shorter version of this very long work, but I also dabbled in several translations). Ovid’s epic poem is all about transformation: people turn into animals, into trees, into water—so many changes. And of course I re-read fairy tales about transformation. There are so many!
            After that it was really a matter of thinking about what really needed to transform in this book. Where were the big moments of change? And how would these changes manifest in the world of this book?
            (I’m sorry to be a bit vague here—I’m trying not to do any spoilers!)

The months leading up to a book release are incredibly busy with work that happens behind the scenes.  Could you talk a bit about what you’ll be doing in the next few months to prepare the book for publication? 

I’m a full-time college professor, so I’ll be teaching! Beyond that, I’ll be setting up school and library visits (…you can contact me through my website…) and arranging as much travel as I’m able to do while still teaching. And of course, I’m working on my next book. J

Books take a lot of time, and often those that share our worlds have to wait while we do the work.  I know you’ve written in the company of cats and kids and loyal writing pals.   Any stories from that process to share with fellow writers and readers? 

I’ve been really lucky in that while I’ve been writing, my kids have been reading and loving stories. I’ve read all my manuscripts aloud to them them while the books are still in draft form (usually right before I send them off to my agent). My kids are the kindest and most supportive readers you can imagine. I have critique partners, too—grownup amazing writer friends who read my work and give me honest and often difficult feedback that helps me revise—but having these two young people who love me and shower me with undiluted praise for my stories? That’s crucial. It’s magic.

I can’t wait to be in the audience for the release of this book.  Where can readers follow your news? 

You can find publication information on my website blog, which I update…quite infrequently, honestly. But I do list upcoming books and publication dates there: For more frequent updates and a cringe-worthy number of cat photos, you might check Facebook (Heather Bouwman) or Twitter (hmbouwman).

Sheila O'Connor is the author of five novels, including her most recent middle-grade novel, Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth